Cordati was born in Barga, (in Piazza Angelio No 17) on February 9th,
1890. His father, Luigi, was a mason, his mother, Adele, a housewife.
The modest economic conditions of his family meant that he could only
go to school until he was twelve, from then on he virtually educated
aptitude for drawing led him to his first experiments with crayons.
When still a child he met a sign-painter, a certain Mr. Norfini,
and went around the countryside, following and working with him.
Norfini became a dear friend, who Bruno would never forget. "He
taught me the trade" as he was to say later. In his adolescence,
Giovanni Pascoli engaged him to fresco a symbolic coat of arms on
one of the walls of his garden, in Castelvecchio: Cordati was thus
able to come close to the poet. Pascoli was an important acquaintance,
who was not alien to his mental disposition and Cordati's choice
of isolation of the last years of his life parallels to some extent
Pascoli's. Unfortunately the work he did for Pascoli was damaged
by an earthquake and was then badly restored.
as a decorator he earned enough money to prepare himself privately
for the entrance examination to a special course on painting at
the Art Institute "A. Passaglia" in Lucca, run by Alceste
Campriani. Class registers show his enrolment in the academic year
1914/1915. But he only attended the school for a few months. After
having failed the qualifying examination for teaching, because of
the oral test on descriptive geometry, on May 15th, 1915, he left
for the front, where he remained till the end of the war.
rarely spoke of his four years in the trenches on the border between
Italy and Slovenia, marked by memories of the rain, the mud, fear
and the daily struggle with death. He was awarded a medal for military
valour and came back with an oil painting Soldati al fronte (Soldiers
at the front), which is printed in the catalogues of the exhibition
in Palazzo Strozzi (Florence 1987) and Palazzo Lanfranchi (Pisa-1988).
But above all he came back with a purpose: he decided to devote
himself completely to painting.
the following years, his painting became more intense, opening out
to the contemporary cultural debate, first towards a reformed cézannism,
then towards the Novecento.
1932, an oil-painting with a posthumous title In soggettiva (where
we see the artist's hands painting a smaller version of the painting
itself) came to the attention of Filippo Marinetti, who praised
his inventive iconography and his playing with perspective. Marinetti
noted Cordati's search which drew together its neo-futurist programme.
this period he also began to exhibit his pictures, winning over
his moody character. The first exhibition appears to have been in
Lucca in 1921. About thirty pictures were on show (oil-paintings
and pastels). A local Barga newspaper predicted "a promising
future" for Cordati, because "he is young, has great merits
and above all he wants to work".
know from the same source that he met not only the public's favour
but also that of several reviewers; Giovanni Rosati, a member of
Parliament and under- secretary of the Belle Arti, bought a pastel,
Testa di bimbo (Child's head), for the National Gallery of Modern
Art in Rome.
way was open. In August of the following year, he exhibited in Bagni
di Lucca; in 1923 in Lucca (First Regional Exhibition of Art and
Handicrafts, organized by "Ars Lucensis"). Emilio Pasquini,
a classical scholar, reviewed his pictures in the magazine Sagittario:
"he knows the long, silent studies of his meditative and snug
Barga". Pasquini wrote of the majority of paintings as having
childish subject, a vein which was to remain for a long time in
Cordati's output. A self portrait was also mentioned, the first
of a long series, but the only one which hangs in a public palace,
bought by the local council of Lucca, and in 1926 was in the Villa
exhibitions in Lucca, and subsequent purchases, gave him a good
name. He sold many of pictures and was given commissions; this improved
his economic situation and was quite important, as in 1922 he married
Clotilde Costi and then they had two daughters, Bruna and Luigia.
were more and more frequent (see list below), from 1925 to 1930
he took part in numerous collective exhibitions; of these the most
significant being the Biennale in Venice in 1928.
the end of the twenties Cordati's pictures had been on show in the
most important Tuscan and Italian art exhibitions, his work sold
well and even the French reviews: "La Revue Moderne" and
"La Revue du Vrai et du Beau" heralded him as a new talent.
Barga remained his base; he only moved away for brief periods, induced
by his family duties and by the advice of a painter friend, Adolfo
Balduini, who exhibited with him.
was the right moment for personal exhibitions; the most important
was in Lucca, in 1930, at the "Circolo Lucchese". The
21 works got excellent reviews in the Popolo Toscano and the Giornale
d'Italia (two contemporary magazines). Rino Carassiti saw in them
"something lofty, strong, real, studied, powerful, which shows
his pictures are some steps higher than the normal level of painting".
Luigi Gualtiero admired "his exquisite artist's soul. and an
enviable technical endowment"; but he exhorted Cordati "to
come out of Lucca's environment, to show, in some big city, preferably
Rome, his art. It will be advantageous for him and an honour for
Lucca". Cordati didn't follow this advice and his exhibitions
were concentrated in Tuscany, with the exception of one in La Spezia
1931 Cordati organized an exhibition with Umberto Maestrucci and
Corrado Michelozzi in the rooms of the Bottega d'Arte. Rino Carassiti
seized the opportunity to write in the catalogue a portrait of Cordati,
who was now forty: "he has an open face, where you see every
emotion, but you can't read, as you think, his thoughts. His broad
forehead appears to you framed by white hair, which contrasts with
his young appearance. You meet a firm figure, he is a man of few
gestures and words; he's not scabrous, but rough".
most complete portrait of Cordati, man and artist, was written by
Ettore Cozzani in "Eroica" in 1932. Twelve works were
published together with the text, including Sera barghigiana (Evening
in Barga), ll nipotino (The grandchild), Attesa (Wait), Nubi (Clouds),
and Riposo (Rest).
were the most successful years for critical recognition and economic
rewards. He received public commissions too: Pascoli's portrait
for the local council of Barga (the picture still hangs in the town
hall); the temper ornament in the Casa del Mutilato (Cripple's House)
in Piazza San Michele (Lucca); Antonio Mazzarosa De Vincenti's portrait,
a well known person in Lucca, for the Cassa di Risparmio (an important
bank of the same town).Cordati had thus become a well-known painter,
but he began to teach regularly which took him away from Tuscany.
1934 he still resided in Barga (an exhibition in Lucca - Circolo
Centro - and a participation in the organizing committee of the
First Summer Exhibition in Viareggio - Kursaal). The year after
he was in Gorizia; there is a drawing he did there, dated 3rd February
1935, but above all there are the works he showed in the Exhibition
of Art and Handicraft (Barga, August 1935): "numerous landscapes
made recently in the places of the war, Montesanto, Sabotino, il
Calvario". In 1936 he was back in Gorizia.
1937 he took part in the 4th Exhibition of Art in Lucca. However
the Ministry of Education ordered him to leave Italy and he was
entrusted to teach the history of art and drawing in Italian foreign
secondary schools; he was in Budapest (1937-1938), Paris (1938-
1939) and Bulgaria (1939-1943).
and his family were to remember this period abroad as one of the
happiest and most intense in his life. He taught, studied, visited
art-galleries and museums, and painted. In Bulgaria, especially,
where the fascination of Slavonic places and customs led him to
widen his thematic repertory and to renew the range of his colours,
which were then particularly rich and bright. Now in Palazzo Cordati
there is a room devoted to this period: the Bulgarian room.
this period passed only too quickly and the war brought him back
to Tuscany, and to his studio in Via di Mezzo, Barga. Even though
he was exempted from military service and he followed the events
only as a civilian, the war marked him heavily. The alarms, the
bombings, the ruins and in the end the poverty of the post-war period
were for him more shocking than the experiences he had had in the
trenches as a young man.
then on Cordati's pictures became sombre again, and his creative
rhythm slowed down. He carried on painting, but often destroyed
his works or changed them completely. He would paint irregularly,
beginning a picture, then leaving it only to pick it up later and
rework it several times; a method which was to become the habit
of his last years.
1946 when asked to explain the meaning of what he was searching
for he replied: "every picture represents a starting-point
for me, or, if you like this image, the rung of a ladder; every
work is an experiment, an attempt to go beyond". This way of
conceiving art, with its strongly experimental sense, corresponded
to his need to leave the public scene and official contests. In
1947 he exhibited for the last time and retired to the seclusion
taught for some time at a teacher training school; in the end, enjoying
the benefit of his pension, he shut himself into the big rooms of
Palazzo Cordati, which he had rented before the war and which he
bought at the end of the sixties. Here he could devote himself to
his favourite activities. He read and re-read the classics, the
Divina Commedia and Orlando Furioso, in particular, but Dostoevski,
Tolstoy, Makarenko too, along with Flaubert, Maupassant, Joyce,
Musil, Proust. He listened to music; he wrote, among other things,
a portrait for the review "Ponte" of the painter Alberto
Magri, a friend and a fellow-citizen, but above all he painted ceaselessly.
distraction, even the least interference in his work was intolerable
for him. To everybody, friends and daughters alike, he said the
same thing: no more exhibitions, no more long absences from his
village and his house, never again any "unnecessary stress".
He accepted his last commission in 1962: a portrait of Giovanni
Carignani for the picture-gallery of the Cassa di Risparmio of Lucca.
But it was an exception: he painted only for himself and for his
story of his last thirty years revolves around his works: innumerable
pictures accumulated in his studio, day after day. They had little
thematic range and followed same line of research: he progressively
left the figure to reach the informal. He didn't worry about giving
them a title or putting them in order; on the contrary, he actually
refused to do it. His pictures were on the same standing as living
things for him and therefore held to no formula or label.
was important was the act of painting itself, the daily tribulation
which gives a meaning to life, or rather is life itself. He was
sustained by this faith and continued to work till the end, with
an alacrity more typical of youth. Still working and very active,
he was suddenly struck by a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of ninety.
died in Barga hospital, a few day after being admitted, on the 26th
and collective exhibition
Pacini Institute, Lucca
Permanent Exhibition, Bagni di Lucca
First Regional artistic exhibition, Casino dei Nobili, Lucca
First artistic exhibition, Barga
IV Spring Exhibition, Livorno
XCIII Esposizione Amatori e Cultori delle Belle Arti
II Art Exhibition, Fiume
XVI International Art Exhibition, Venice
Palazzo Ducale, Lucca
IV Regional Tuscan Art Exhibition, Florence
Personal Exhibition, Circolo Lucchese, Lucca
II Provincial Exhibition of Art, Lucca
Personal Exhibition, Bottega d'Arte, Livorno
Personal Exhibition, Barga
Personal Exhibition, Casa d'Arte, La Spezia
Personal Exhibition, Circolo Lucchese, Lucca
Personal Exhibition, Kursaal, Viareggio
Personal Exhibition, Circolo Centro, Viareggio
I Summer Exhibition, Kursaal, Viareggio
Art exhibition, Barga
IV Art Exhibition, Lucca
Provincial Art Exhibition, Lucca
II Provincial Art Exhibition, Lucca
Art Exhibition, Barga
Art in Lucca 1900-1945, Palazzo Mansi, Lucca
Retrospective Exhibition, Barga
Anthological Exhibition, Barga
Anthological Exhibition, La Nuova Strozzina (Palazzo Strozzi),
Anthological Exhibition, Palazzo Lanfranchi, Pisa
Anthological Exhibition, Sophia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Anthological Exhibition, Fontana del Delfino Gallery, Bergamo
1994 Permanent Exhibition, Palazzo Cordati, Barga.